Bruce Lehrmann’s defence lawyer says he was left “pissed off and angry” by a suggestion he had been coached by a former senior government minister during the trial.
Steven Whybrow SC made the claim during his first day in the witness box at an inquiry into the criminal justice system’s handling of the high-profile case.
Mr Lehrmann had pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexually assaulting his former colleague Brittany Higgins before the trial was aborted due to jury misconduct.
Mr Lehrmann has continually denied the allegation and the DPP declined to pursue a second trial due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health and dropped the charge against him.
The defence barrister is the second witness to give evidence after the Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC told the inquiry he had concerns of political interference in the case.
Mr Whybrow told the inquiry on Monday he took issue with the questioning of senator Linda Reynolds — who employed both staffers at the time of the alleged assault – which he said was “unfair”.
“I don’t hold a candle to Senator Reynolds (but) they were unfair and played on this political conspiracy … when there wasn’t any actual factual evidence for it,” he told the inquiry.
During the trial, the ACT Supreme Court heard the Liberal senator had texted Mr Whybrow while two hours into Ms Higgins’ cross-examination, seeking daily transcripts of the hearing for her lawyer.
She also suggested to the barrister text messages between Ms Higgins and another former member of her team, Nicole Hamer, may be “revealing”. Her partner had also sat in the courtroom throughout the trial taking notes.
Mr Drumgold had put to Senator Reynolds in court that she had tried to coach the defence, which she denied.
The allegation was put on the basis of Mr Whybrow disclosing the texts to the DPP.
On Monday, Mr Whybrow was asked about an email he sent to Mr Drumgold about his in-court conduct.
He said he was “very concerned” about the conduct of the DPP, which he claimed amounted to “improper conduct”.
“(The DPP) put these positive things to Linda Reynolds, to and including, that she was trying to tell me how to do my job, give me cross examination tips” Mr Whybrow said.
“I was angry and pissed off. I wrote this email to him that I considered (this) was improper conduct. I’m very concerned that you put it as a positive attestation.
“He didn’t say ‘were you giving cross-examination tips. He said, ‘you were giving … tips’ and there’s a significant difference.”
Mr Whybrow also told the inquiry he was “flabbergasted” when he learned the DPP had read Ms Higgins’ counselling notes.
Mr Drumgold conceded under questioning last week he had read the documents. Mr Whybrow told the inquiry he learned of the breach when he asked whether the DPP had accidentally received them.
“Frankly I was flabbergasted to be told this information that he/they were entitled to read them to know whether (they were) disclosable,” said Mr Whybrow.
“I was not expecting to be told the DPP had read these and read them to an extent to ensure they were not disclosable.”
The inquiry continues.